EAPs in the World of Work: Employers Increasingly View Workers as an Asset to Be Enhanced Rather Than a Cost to Be Controlled. Understanding This Trend Can Help EA Professionals Focus Their Knowledge of Human Behavior on Performance and Productivity

Article excerpt

Mention the words "employee assistance program" to many human resources managers and you'll receive a lackluster response. In their view, an EAP is a "nice-to-have" service that is included in a complete suite of benefits but is not necessarily essential or particularly valuable. Like many others within work organizations, HR managers often perceive EAPs simply as a counseling service related to the employer's health benefit plan and, thus, a cost to be minimized.

Why are EA professionals finding it difficult to generate excitement in our customer base? Perhaps it is because we have drifted away from our foundation in the "world of work" and lost the ability to demonstrate how our unique skills and approaches can help the workplace. This article suggests ways to overcome thee obstacles and find opportunities in the world of work by--

* Understanding the importance of investing in human capital;

* Recognizing trends affecting people at work; and

* Using the essence of employee assistance to meet emerging needs.

EAPS AND THE WORLD OF WORK

Most of us would agree that EAPs are part of the world of work but also part of the world of healthcare. In recent years, as EAPs became more fully integrated with managed behavioral healthcare, they drifted away from the workplace to define themselves as a healthcare service. A number of EAPs were very successful in developing "gatekeeper models" that helped employers reduce healthcare costs. Integrated EAP and managed behavioral healthcare services became a common model of EAP service delivery in the United States.

Aligning EAPs too closely with healthcare, however, has its consequences. Healthcare benefits costs are rising again, forcing employers to continually reassess which healthcare benefits they will provide and how they will pay for them. In this business climate, managed behavioral healthcare services and EAPs have experienced price decreases, leading to the current commodity pricing environment.

Tying EAPs too closely to healthcare in this environment is risky. Healthcare systems change; what doesn't change is an employer's need for a healthy and productive workforce. We must realize that productivity depends on human activity, and EA professionals have a unique understanding of human behavior in the workplace. Thus, EAPs are positioned most strongly when they are clearly understood to be part of the world of work rather than the world of healthcare.

VIEWING WORKERS AS AN ASSET

For EA professionals, the key concept to understand is that workers in an organization are an asset to be enhanced and in which to invest, not a cost to be managed and controlled. The concept of investing in human capital is gaining ground in the business world. Research by Watson Wyatt has linked effective human capital management with higher stock values, prompting many employers to reassess their approach to their human resources.

Placing human talent on the asset side of a cost accounting equation rather than the liability side has a significant impact. Work organizations seek to grow their assets and reduce their liabilities. If we in the EAP field continue to think of people as costs to be managed rather than assets to be enhanced, we will miss out on a significant trend.

Viewing people as an asset has major implications for the work environment. Consider this definition: An organization's human capital is the collective value of the experience, skills, talents, knowledge, creativity, energy, enthusiasm, engagement, and relationships that its people choose to invest in their work.

This definition contains a key concept. People--you and I--decide how much of our experience and talent to invest in our work. What helps us invest more of ourselves in our organization? What can our employers do to promote and enhance our value and that of our co-workers? How can EAPs help employers and employees enhance the value of the individual and collective human capital of work organizations? …